Sharing my experiences, my mistakes and my JOY

Reflections Of A Bariatric Surgery Elder

Today I celebrate the 26th anniversary of my Roux-en-Y gastric bypass!

Even though I knew this anniversary was approaching, seeing the number “26” just now was still pretty amazing to read. That is a pretty long time –  maybe even long enough to feel somewhat justified in playing the role of an Elder in this little bariatric Village of ours –  passing along stories to a younger generation. Of course that’s a quaint little thought considering we live in a digital age where we Like or Share everything from the food we eat to the people we meet.

In that spirit I ask your indulgence and allow me to SHARE a few things I’ve learned during the first 26 years of my journey. . . . . I hope you LIKE what you read. Whether you are pre-op or post-op or a no-op – whether you are a bariatric surgery healthcare professional or even if you are working with an insurance company [although I may have just thrown up in my mouth a little], everyone’s point of view is going to be different; everyone comes to our Village with unique life experiences. That’s terrific and I look forward to learning from all of you.

I’m not here to pick a fight with anybody. Really. If you disagree with what I write, do so with respect because my goal is simply to pass along a few nuggets to anyone in our Village who reads this and thinkswell if he can do this, so can I” because you’re right. You can! Here goes:

  • Let’s start with a big oneIt is okay to seriously consider punching anyone in the face (virtual punches only of course!) who has the nerve to tell you having weight loss surgery is “the easy way out.” I’d ask that you not punch them in the face because I don’t condone violence and social distancing is important. But you have a right to think about it because doing this is really hard.  My 26 years has been filled with successes and failures and long periods of something in between. Anyone who thinks having surgery is easy hasn’t done it themselves or known someone or loved someone going through it. Not easy.
  • I’ve said this before many times but PLEASE don’t allow the bathroom scale to be a weapon of mass destruction capable of obliterating your feelings of self-worth if the needle moves in a direction you consider wrong. Your value as a person – as a member of this little Village – has nothing to do with how much you weigh now, weighed yesterday or might weigh next week.
  • But don’t think I’m telling you the scale is worthless because it is a tool which, just like a blood pressure cuff, a needle stick for labs or an X-Ray, provides useful data. Take in the information it provides, share it with your bariatric healthcare team, and act on it appropriately.  But you don’t have my permission to beat yourself up if you are not pleased with the number. Too many of us find we are driven to despair because we are unable to reach a so-called “ideal” or “goal” weight which turns out to be unrealistic, which is not not ideal. I really hope that whole concept of “ideal” weights is becoming extinct because I think it causes much more harm than good.
  • Some may disagree with my thinking on this (what else is new) but I’m a big believer in ranges. I started my journey just over 400 lbs. with a BMI of 60-61. I never got to the so-called “ideal” body weight after my surgery. Some people, including healthcare providers and bariatric professionals, might say that I am not a successful patient because of that. I disagree. If “success” over 26 years is limited to reaching and staying at some number on a scale then I want no part of that kind of success. If keeping off 165-175 lbs. for 26 years is a failure, then I can live my next 26 years with that kind of failure.
    Don’t ever judge yourself harshly – life’s too short to engage in such self-destructive behavior when we are fending off a world that hates and discriminates against people just because of their size. 
  • As I look back one of my big mistakes is that it has been really hard for me to keep up with vitamin supplementation. My bad! If you are postop and you aren’t taking your vitamins or your iron or your calcium or your {insert what you’re ignoring here} GET WITH THE PROGRAM!  Vitamin deficiencies, anemia and all the other problems that come from failing to take supplementation seriously are real and get worse with time. If it’s hard that’s okay but I’m begging you to keep trying until you find the right supplementation program that works for you –  one that you can stay on for a lifetime.
  • I think everyone in our Village is terrified of the F word: FAILURE. The whole reason we sought out surgery to begin with is we “failed” at everything else. I believe every one of us wheeled into an operating room for surgery did so fearing that this too would fail. I know I did! Sure, maybe we put on a big show and declare surgery “the answer” but I believe those of us who are post-op ponder, worry or fear that our surgery might end up not working because failure is what we experienced going in – every diet ever tried, pill ever popped or gym that was joined but rarely visited – didn’t work. To our pre-op Villagers I’m telling you it’s OK to go into surgery a little worried that it might not succeed because that is fuel to help you do what you can to make this work. If you’re not just a tiny bit worried about failing then might I suggest YOU are thinking surgery really is the easy way out?
  • I am thankful to be a Member of the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgeons, Obesity Action Coalition who, along with countless other organizations – are an incredibly important part of our Village that work tirelessly to help us all. It is a privilege to work with so many professionals who possess an unwavering conviction that the work they do saves lives – it does! They really want us to succeed and get frustrated when they learn a patient who is struggling won’t come into the office because of embarrassment or thinking they somehow let their doctor down. The only time that your doctor will feel let down by you is if you don’t give them the chance to use their education, skill and passion to help you succeed. So go back to them – ESPECIALLY when you don’t think things are going so well.
  • Did you know that “Revision” is not a four letter word? Seriously!  Pay attention because this is one of those “do as I say, not as I did” events. If the time has come to evaluate whether another operation is needed to help you deal with this disease, you need to understand you are not a failure! Say it over and over until you make those words part of your truth. Believe me, it really took a lot for that idea to penetrate my thick skull. I had a revision in 2003 and I waited too long because I was ashamed of my weight gain. People ask me about things I’d do differently and delaying my revision is among the biggest mistakes I made during this journey. I beg any of you who think you might need another surgery to not make the same mistake I did.
  • I also get that there are valid reasons patients avoid seeing their surgeon when things aren’t going well. Every now and then the practice just isn’t very supportive. Maybe it’s the culture of the practice but that’s pretty rare. More often it is a single individual who makes it her or his business to help us feel worse than we already do. They talk about “compliance” and cast the blame at your feet or they say things like “you failed their program.A lack of program support often is tough to define but we know it when we experience it because we feel it to our core. I’m sorry to sound grumpy but I know of too many patients who don’t continue that relationship because they experience either an absence of compassion or an overt hostility that has no place in our Village. Memo to all mean people:  There is absolutely no place for you as part of any bariatric surgery program anywherePERIOD! Bad enough we struggle with this chronic disease of Obesity – we shouldn’t have to deal with biased healthcare providers who blame us and shame us. I don’t care if the mean person is a surgeon, nurse, office manager, psychologist, nutritionist, dietitian or insurance coordinator – it doesn’t matter.  Stop it!
  • My wife reminded me that now I never pay attention to whether the chairs in a restaurant had arms – something I totally forgot about! After 26 years I tend to forget many “non-scale victories” I used to celebrate regularly. Make sure you make those celebrations a habit.
  • I’ll never forget how air travel was physically difficult and emotionally painful every time I boarded a plane – my fellow passengers refusing to make eye contact.  I was convinced I could see a cartoonish thought bubble above their heads when they quickly looked away as I approached.  The caption on their bubble was always the same: “Dear God, please don’t let him sit next to me!” That hurt – a lot. I haven’t thought about asking a flight attendant for a seatbelt extension in a lot of years and it seems that many, although clearly not all, flight attendants have gotten a little more sensitive to the needs of people of size. You see airline people?  It isn’t hard to be kind, is it?
  • Don’t judge yourself harshly – life’s too short to engage in such self-destructive behavior when we are already fending off a world that hates and discriminates against people just because of their size.
  • Be KIND TO YOURSELF no matter what circumstances confront you. Your life is more than the number on the scale or the size of your clothes – don’t forget that!

So on the 26th anniversary of my journey through surgery I wish you all the feeling you are living your best and healthiest life and your path brings you JOY each and every day. We have a pretty cool lil’ bariatric Village and I’m honored to have been a small part of it for a long time and look forward to many years to come.
Be well.
Walter Lindstrom
June 30, 2020

  1. Kim FuehrerKim Fuehrer07-09-2020

    Congratulations on 26 years and for sharing your story. I can relate to many of your experiences. I am 16 years post roux.

  2. KarenKaren07-03-2020

    I really enjoyed reading your journey. I should be getting my surgery in August. I have adjusted easily to the pre-OP meal plan. Did you have to any adjustments to your meal plan after you were off the liquid diet? I weigh and measure everything. Your story is a great inspiration.

  3. vickivicki07-01-2020

    i am reading this and sobbing…i am one year out from gastric sleeve, and stuggling….
    after struggling my whole life!
    thank you..
    vicki robbins

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